Jack Geffner, an active 94-year-old, knows very well the sacrifices that have been made and continue to be made by those who serve in the military.
Although he now enjoys life in retirement with his wife, Shirley, at Moldaw Residences in Palo Alto – their daughter Sharon Ziony lives in Los Altos and their daughter Bonnie Shipper in Mountain View – Geffner, a World War II veteran who served four years in the Pacific Theater, looks back on his service and considers himself lucky for being able to contribute in the role he did and for making it back home.
Geffner served in the U.S. Air Force but in a position not many war stories mention – a photo lab commander. He emphasized the importance of honoring all who have served while remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“Our fight was in the darkroom,” he said. “In the Air Force, I was part of the team working directly with pilots who flew planes shooting cameras as opposed to shooting guns. I don’t feel like we did much out of the ordinary, but it made me realize how essential our jobs were because we captured significant images with our photos.”
Geffner said he was fortunate to have had the chance to serve the way he did and realizes that many were not as lucky as he. His cousin fought in the Battle of the Bulge and survived to write three novels about his experiences and the overwhelming losses in that encounter.
“Many who survived find it difficult to look back on that time of service on occasions like Memorial Day and reflect on the friends that were lost – many don’t like to talk about it,” Geff- ner said. “However, taking time to honor them and hear veterans’ stories and experiences is important because it’s a way of capturing part of history before it’s lost with them.”
For a few years after the war, Geffner attempted to keep in touch with some of those who served with him, particularly one of the pilots who worked with him on missions in the Pacific. He recalled attending some reunions but acknowledged that there are not many comrades left now.
After graduating from New York University in 1940 as a pre-med student, Geffner went to work for the Census Bureau in Washington, D.C. He took advantage of opportunities provided through his work there and studied industrial chemistry, including courses in powder and explosives. He then was assigned a job as an inspector of explosives. The skills and knowledge he acquired led to his interest in the military, so he enlisted in the Air Force in 1942 to be trained in photo reconnaissance. Geffner entered as an aviation cadet, underwent basic training and was commissioned as second lieutenant in 1943.
“I was part of the 28th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron of the Air Force and assigned to the Pacific Theater,” he said. “Doing photo recon, we worked with pilots of P-38s to get the precise photos needed of coastlines and islands. We processed the film and had targets for the other pilots before noon.”
Geffner’s photo recon squadron was fully staffed with four to six officers. Each team was responsible for individual P-38s, which involved maintaining the cameras and using the proper types of cameras based on the missions the pilots were given. They also instructed the pilots as to the exact altitude and speed they should fly in order to capture the best photos needed. Then, they processed the film upon return.
“We weren’t in the heat of the battles,” he recalled. “But our jobs were very important in the overall wartime activity. Information was needed, so we collected photos and therefore collected intel on the enemies’ coastlines. We helped develop the film of islands all over the South Pacific – Iwo Jima, Hiroshima and Okinawa.”
Following his military service, Geffner completed his education via the G.I. Bill and became a podiatrist.
He has dedicated many years to ensuring that local groups of Jewish War Veterans, the oldest veterans organization in the country, continue to thrive with new members and support. He moved to California and collected funds and volunteered at the local VA hospital to revitalize the group at Post No. 60 in San Jose. He continues to look for opportunities to recruit other veterans to join the group.
“I was relieved to be done and able to go home when I was discharged, but I believe we all did what we had to do at the time, and each individual person and job was important,” he said.
For more information on Moldaw Residences of Palo Alto, call (800) 873-9614 or visit moldaw.org.